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new project: This Earth Nature Blog

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I have decided to go another way, and have launched a new project: This Earth Nature Blog. Hope to see you there sometime.



Written by Christopher ZF

March 22, 2012 at 13:59

Posted in Uncategorized

Really, with Seth and Amy: Birth Control

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I’m still pretty worked up about the birth control argument that has been underway in American Politics. I think it is embarrassing and disgraceful and representative of a time that we should collectively have left in our past.

So I was delighted by this past weekend’s Weekend Update on SNL, in which the classic segment Really, with Seth and Amy took on the issue. Maybe it even had an impact on that Virginia law.

Anyway. It’s worth a look. Because the issue remains important, and the news that all-male congressional hearings are taking place to determine such an issue as female reproductive rights only highlights how tone-deaf too many people still are, in 2012, regarding such an everyday, commonplace element of the modern life.

Written by Christopher ZF

February 24, 2012 at 15:00

David Brooks on America’s Tribes

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The truth is, members of the upper tribe have made themselves phenomenally productive. They may mimic bohemian manners, but they have returned to 1950s traditionalist values and practices. They have low divorce rates, arduous work ethics and strict codes to regulate their kids.

Members of the lower tribe work hard and dream big, but are more removed from traditional bourgeois norms. They live in disorganized, postmodern neighborhoods in which it is much harder to be self-disciplined and productive.

That is TRC’s ever-favorite “conservative” editorialist, David Brooks, writing about the widening gaps between American tribes in his piece yesterday, titled, the Great Divorce.

Brooks clearly is enamored by his idea that American culture is tribal, not classist, and he runs and runs and runs with it. As a major news and opinion consumer, TRC thinks it can be pretty easy to notice when a writer has come up with something he or she thinks is quite clever, and, maybe doesn’t think it all the way through. Thus is Brooks’ dilemma.

It looks today as though David Brooks’ piece is causing a bit of an internet uproar. Politico has the rundown. The main complaint seems to be that Brooks, that harbinger of east-coast 1950s conservatism who longs for America to regain its glory by acknowledging it is losing its moral compass and soul (or some such nonsense), is oozing with bourgouis elitism and condescension.

So, internet, I have to ask: Why are you surprised? This is David Brooks. He is a standard upper-class (ahem, upper-tribe) ideas man, who when it comes down to it, is thoughtful, but clueless about modern life. I just assumed everyone knew that was David Brooks m.o. Brooks work in the last few years at the NY Times has represented only a swan-song to golden era nostalgia.

Even Brooks’ conclusion that we need a big national service program to bring the upper and lower tribes together (I agree), falls apart in the need for one harmonious tribe that shares values and practices. He misses the entire point of what comes before in his piece: the tribes don’t have much in common, we don’t all need to share the same practices and institutions and values, and besides, the postmodern neighborhoods of the poor are probably too confusing to find their way to each other anyway.

Written by Christopher ZF

February 1, 2012 at 14:11

once more, on Gingrich’s uphill battle.

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Earlier today, I put 5 seconds into a campaign ad for the Newt Gingrich campaign. I tried to be sly about mocking the foundational claim of Newt’s run: that he has reformed.

But what I was getting at was done better and bolder by Rod Dreher at the American Conservative. It’s the same concept, titled Gingrich Family Values.

Written by Christopher ZF

January 23, 2012 at 15:21

A note from TRC on the Keystone XL Decision

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TRC tends to think that when most people are confronted with a difficult decision, they will weigh the options and choose what they think is the best. If they don’t, that’s what they should be doing.

And I think that’s what President Obama and his team did when they decided to reject the Keystone XL Pipeline today. I like to think that Obama and his staff looked at the benefits and the risks, weighed them, and came to a decision based on the evidence. That isn’t to say that someone could not do the same, and come out on the other side. But it is to say that Obama took the decision seriously, and chose with care. This is what I hope.

The pros of the Keystone XL pipeline, the only talking point there is for this project, is jobs. It creates jobs. It’s shovel ready. If you oppose the line, you are an extremist who does not put American jobs first. Look at the GOP responses already compiled, only hours after the decision was made public.

  • “His decision today is a victory for the few extreme environmental activists who have lined up to protest Keystone and a defeat for the tens of thousands of Americans who are lining up to find a Keystone job.” Sen. John Barrasso (R-Wyo.)
  • “How long does it take for President Obama to put the needs of America’s workers ahead of his political interests?” Dick Lugar (R-Ind.)
  • “I would note that under the law the president signed, the decision to claim that these jobs are not in the national interest is his alone. The president is the only one who can make that determination and block the jobs. ” Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.)
  • “President Obama is about to destroy tens of thousands of American jobs and sell American energy security to the Chinese. The president won’t stand up to his political base even to create American jobs.”  Brendan Buck, John Boehner’s spokesman.

Jobs are an important argument. One of the most important arguments when trying to recover a depressed economy. But it is not the only argument, and it is not the most important argument when making policy, especially when making long-term decisions for the health of a nation. We need to create jobs. But we should not be obsessed; we should not create ANY jobs just because they are jobs. Instead, we should create 21st century, forward-looking, nation-improving jobs. Which  TRC believes, and hopefully the Obama Administration agrees, are not oil-pumping, greenhouse gas emitting, boreal forest destroying jobs.

And in this light, Texas Gov. and GOP Presidential nominee Rick Perry’s response is particularly telling: “The president’s focused more on the next election than on the next generation.”

This is exactly wrong, Rick Perry. The people of Nebraska who oppose this pipeline, and the people of the Western US who require the Oglala Aquifer for their drinking water, the environmental community and those who prioritize the long-term health of the US and its resources are more concerned about the next generation than they are the this election.

And at least on this decision, so is President Obama. If President Obama were only concerned with the 2012 presidential election, he would have approved this pipeline. That seems fairly safe to assume. Approving the pipeline is more politically expedient than denying it.  Because jobs are the word. If you can’t say JOBS in this political atmosphere, you are losing the battle.   If you think that the Obama base is appeased by this one action, and thus will boost him in the 2012 general election, you fundamentally misunderstand the liberal voting base.

Regardless of how this action will be taken, TRC is happy to see President Obama make a decision that provides a voice to the future health of this country and its future citizens. TRC  is happy Obama can see beyond this moment in January 2012, and make the right choice for January 2212. Because the American citizens of 2212 have the same right to clean drinking water we do. If you can’t look beyond the current predicament, and provide for the future, even in difficult times like these, then you should not be making long-term decisions that will impact the lives of millions of Americans.

This decision now made does not end the Keystone story, nor does it end an all of the above energy agenda including coal, nuclear and gas that the President has always confirmed he supports. But it is a good decision for today. Nice work, Chief.

*UPDATE: Here is the President Obama’s release on the decision:

As the State Department made clear last month, the rushed and arbitrary deadline insisted on by Congressional Republicans prevented a full assessment of the pipeline’s impact, especially the health and safety of the American people, as well as our environment. As a result, the Secretary of State has recommended that the application be denied. And after reviewing the State Department’s report, I agree.
 In the months ahead, we will continue to look for new ways to partner with the oil and gas industry to increase our energy security — including the potential development of an oil pipeline from Cushing, Oklahoma to the Gulf of Mexico — even as we set higher efficiency standards for cars and trucks and invest in alternatives like biofuels and natural gas.

The decision allows TransCanada to reapply for a permit to build the pipeline, which the company immediately signaled it would do.

Written by Christopher ZF

January 18, 2012 at 15:17

the old switcheroo: making your Secretary of State your VP, your VP something else

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The political tea leaves tell TRC that President Obama has a pretty good shot at reelection. Today, the odds are at worst, 50-50 (and probably improving). And that is with Joe Biden remaining as VP on the ticket. Biden has been a fine VP, methinks. He is well respected internationally, and has long been prepping himself for the highest office, even though he’ll never see it. He has been willing to take shots and give shots, despite being ably capable to run himself into trouble with his comments. But really, what more do you want from a VP? A dark Lord?

Given those odds, it is curious, though hardly surprising, to see the push for the Administration to pull the switcheroo with VP Biden and Sec. of State Clinton. If Biden has been a serviceable VP, TRC thinks that Clinton has been an excellent Secretary of State. She has proven to quite loyal to the President, and willing to take on the tough tasks that go with the job with no complaint or fanfare. Exemplar.

And to be clear, TRC does not think this move is in the cards. We just don’t see it happening. But still, the push continues because people love to make political predictions, and they love to think they know something the rest of us don’t. Several opinionators have suggested it. Previously Robert Reich predicted the change. Today at the NYTimes Op-Ed page, Bill Keller is supporting the idea. So here’s TRC’s take on the subject, if it were to be seriously considered in the White House.

Says Keller of Mrs. Clinton:

Hillary Clinton is 64 years old, with a Calvinist work ethic, the stamina of an Olympian, an E.Q. to match her I.Q., and the political instincts of a Clinton. She has an impressive empathic ability — invaluable in politics or statecraft — to imagine how the world looks to an ally or adversary. She listens, and she learns from her mistakes. She was a perfectly plausible president four years ago, and that was before she demonstrated her gifts as a diplomatic snake-charmer. (Never mind Pakistan and Libya, I’m talking about the Obama White House.) She is, says Gallup, the most admired woman in America for the 10th year in a row, laps ahead of, in order, Oprah Winfrey, Michelle Obama, Sarah Palin and Condoleezza Rice; her approval rating of 64 percent is the highest of any political figure in the country.
So it’s too early to hang up the big ambition. And a lot of us would be deeply disappointed in her if she did. This would be none of our business if she had taken the off-ramp after her time as first lady. (Nobody is thinking very hard about what’s next for Laura Bush.) But she moved on to the Senate, to a near-miss presidential campaign, and to a credible term as secretary of state. She raised our expectations.

With all of this, we agree. Hillary Clinton is an exceptionally capable and smart woman, and politician. There’s no doubt she could make a strong VP, or POTUS. And Keller gives us three reasons to put Clinton on the ticket in the fall:

One: it does more to guarantee Obama’s re-election than anything else the Democrats can do. Two: it improves the chances that, come next January, he will not be a lame duck with a gridlocked Congress but a rejuvenated president with a mandate and a Congress that may be a little less forbidding. Three: it makes Hillary the party’s heir apparent in 2016. If she sits out politics for the next four years, other Democrats (yes, Governor Cuomo, we see your hand up) will fill the void.

Again, those are strong arguments for bringing Mrs. Clinton on to the ticket. But there are reasons that such a move could be a disastrous mistake. Keller mentions a few (Obama thinks the Clintons are representative of the old “tawdry” side of politics; Obama doesn’t need Clinton to win; Clinton has a better chance in 2016 without Obama, etc).

But he misses a pretty big problem that this move would create. The nation already struggles to see Obama outside of a politically calculating, dispassionate characterization. President Obama lacks a certain warmth and humanity, they say. Too professorial and calculating. Having fallen far short of bringing about a new era in politics, many seem to think that Obama is interested in serving only his own political ambitions. This is wrong in our reading (well, not entirely wrong, but being occasionally hyper-logical and not overly reliant on gut-instinct and heart is not a flaw to everyone), but it is not difficult to arrive at the conclusion of an overly calculating Obama making only the moves that suit him best.

And switching his VP with the Sec. of State to win an election would be just that. There has to be a reason to make the change beyond electoral fortunes, or it could be a major fail. High risk, then, and high reward. And when it comes to VP choices, we have seen quite recently how the high risk/high reward can play.

TRC thinks that Hillary Clinton would be a dynamite VP, and hopes to see her run in 2016, should she choose to do so. And if President Obama decides to put her on the ticket this year, that, too is fine. But don’t be hasty, Mr. President, and don’t be distant in the choice. Be clear and supportive of your people, be able to know why this is happening, and be willing to warmly embrace your former opponent (including allowing her to be in the room, all the time).

Otherwise, don’t do it.

Written by Christopher ZF

January 9, 2012 at 12:07

Christmas Card Irreverence

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This is the image from the Obama Family Christmas Card.

Granted. It’s kind of lame. I am sure Bo is a fine dog, and having him painted in a Christmas style room with a fire is quite warm and conducive to the feelings I am sure Obama wanted to inspire in his friends, family, and you known, bloggers and everyone who takes time to comment on the meaningless outflow of presidential paraphernalia.

Some people didn’t approve. For example, Sarah Palin. Apparently, Palin has polled Americans on their Christmas card preferencesPalin said a majority of Americans prefer “American foundational values illustrated and displayed on Christmas cards and on a Christmas tree.” With regard to the card, she added, “It’s just a different way of thinking coming out of the White House.”

I understand, Ms. Palin. So, from me to you, here is a Christmas card I hope you will like.

Written by Christopher ZF

December 22, 2011 at 16:50